Hall of best knowledge

artist: Ray Fenwick
publisher: Fantagraphics
publish date:
language: English
pages: 168:

Ray Fenwick has pioneered his own medium of storytelling, one best described as "typographical comics." Hall of Best Knowledge is presented as a handsome, personal journal written by an unnamed voice, referred to only as "The Author." Little is known about him; he makes occasional, derogatory references to a twin brother and younger sibling, but reveals little else. He clearly fashions himself a genius, writing with a faux-aristocratic air, and it is presumably his belief in his own genius that leads him to want to share his knowledge with the world. Each page features information such as "It hardly needs mentioning that riding a pony is no intellectual triumph.... If riding a pony is so fantastic, why have I never read of any renowned pony-riding genius? It is because such a person does not exist, making it a foolish waste of time unworthy of attention." These pearls of wisdom are lettered in an elegant, almost obsessive fashion, entirely hand-crafted and bedecked with Ionic columns and fleurs-de-lis.

It becomes obvious to the reader early on that all is not as it seems; only at the end does the picture become completely clear. The ensuing journey is a riotous tour through the narrator's ego and id, and the humor builds accordingly as he is revealed to be not nearly as smart—or sophisticated—as he thinks.

Hall of Best Knowledge is part graphic novel, part art object, part satire, part puzzle. The slow unfolding of the author and his story builds humor with each page, creating a peculiar examination of the idea of genius and the problems that arise in the search and transmission of knowledge.

HOBK is an elegantly designed and packaged book, presented as a found journal, with a belly band and other production/design touches to further solidify and give form to the concept of the book.

Named one of Booklist's "Top 10 Graphic Novels" of the Year

Finalist, 2009 Doug Wright Awards' "Pigskin Peters Award" for "avant-garde comics and other non-traditional works"
"In contrast to the conventional (and sterile) typography produced by the computer, many designers have returned to the expressive practice of hand lettering... One of the leading progenitors of the hand scrawl, Ray Fenwick, is a designer and illustrator known for black-and-white samplers of wise and weird 'ideas.' Many of these are collected in Hall of Best Knowledge... While it’s fun to read Fenwick’s witty disquisitions — 'Babies: Wherein the author discusses little and greedy humans'; 'Strangers: Wherein the author tests "stare frequency"'; 'Wealth: Wherein the author can’t understand why you are poor' — the real joy of the book is the variety of quirky scrawls. Each tableau is rendered in pen and ink in a different lettering style; some mimic classic typefaces, while others are more imaginative and ornate. Not calligraphy in the traditional sense, these contemporary illuminated manuscripts are a new twist on the old art of lettering." – Steven Heller, The New York Times Sunday Book Review

"Fenwick somehow manages to combine baroque ornamentality with crafty handiwork. It’s almost like controlled outsider art. And he’s so unfailingly funny." – Marian Bantjes

"In addition to a neat bit of ventriloquism, Fenwick shows off dazzling visual originality in his eye-spinning use of pattern and lettering in HOBK... The lettering melds with its environment as surely as letters in an illuminated manuscript blend with their angels and acanthus leaves." – Print

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